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20 Bartenders Share Their Favorite Nightcaps

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A nightcap is exactly what it sounds like: a drink you have at the end of your night, typically after a meal and before you hit the hay. For bartenders, a nightcap is typically more of a morningcap—it’s the drink they have after their shift, before they head home (or when they get home) after an exhausting night of work. While most people tend to think of nightcaps as sweet dessert liqueurs—like amaretto or sambuca—there are many more spirited ways to end your evening. Here, 20 bartenders reveal their favorite nightcaps, and some are not what you’d expect.

Boilermakers

“When it comes to after shift drinking, my go-to has always been a shot and a beer. Something easy to prepare but will get the job done. My favorite shot at the moment is Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao. The shot will jumpstart the buzz, and the beer I can sip on to unwind.” — William Frost, head bartender at Blue Harbour, Tampa, FL

“When I'm finished with my work day, I, like many bartenders, enjoy a shot and a beer. Reposado tequila and a session IPA or a crisp lager are great. At Rosaline, I enjoy Koshihikari Echigo Japanese beer. It goes really well with chef Zarate's Peruvian cuisine. If it's going to be a cocktail, I always enjoy a traditional Daiquiri or the Bellicose Warrior on Rosaline's current cocktail menu.” — Jeremy Lake, bar manager at Rosaliné, Los Angeles, CA

“My drink of choice is a Miller Light and a shot of Powers Irish whiskey. After a long night behind the bar, I just want to enjoy an ice cold, mass-produced Miller Light and a shot of Powers. Repeat as many times as possible, in the least amount of time possible." — Chuck Gellasch, head bartender at Lady of the House, Detroit, MI

“There's a plethora of emotions a bartender could be feeling at the end of a busy shift. The spectrum ranges from exhaustion to exhilarating accomplishment and everything in between. Whatever I am feeling dictates the speed of post-work head space that needs to be achieved. I generally love a delicious shot of tequila or mezcal to get me to where I need to be. Then I nurse it with a beer (usually something light, or an IPA when I need a punch of flavor to the face).” — Devon Espinosa, bar manager at Gusto, Los Angeles, CA

“You can bet that I'll be sipping on any given variety of mezcal, accompanied by a Pacifico at shift’s end. My post-shift drink of choice is simplistic. After making complex cocktails for eight hours, all I really want is a shot and a beer to unwind, and I'm a firm believer in all things agave.” — Caitlyn Jackson, bar director at Geraldine’s, Austin, TX

Digestifs

“Usually I'm working on a new menu or some sort of cocktail project, so I generally drink whatever that is. If that is not the case, then my go-to would be dark rum with some sort of amaro on the rocks. No juicing, no shaking, no syrups, nothing complicated—just a glass, some ice and two ingredients. And any proportion of the two ingredients will taste good.” — Trevor Landry, beverage director of NL Group, Dallas, TX

“For me, my favorite drink of choice usually doesn’t have a lot of bells and whistles. I keep my shift drink simple, refreshing and easy to put together. After a long night behind the bar, the last thing I want to do is make more of a mess (you have to keep in mind we still probably have cleaning to do). Lately, my go-to is Cocchi Americano on the rocks with soda. If I’m feeling fancy, I’ll add a lemon zest.” — Michelle Bearden, bar manager at Truss & Twine, Palm Springs, CA

Whiskey

“I could regale you with crazy bartending stories from my youth—when I drank anything and everything after work. But now that I’m at Whiskey Ranch and have ‘normal’ hours, my nightcap situation as changed a bit. I don’t go to bars much anymore, and like hell I’m making another cocktail after work. I’m really enjoying working with Firestone & Robertson’s products, so right now my favorite thing to do at the end of a long day is pour a couple fingers of their TX Bourbon neat, sit on my patio with my dogs and enjoy a cigar.” — Jason Shelly, resident mixologist, Whiskey Ranch, Fort Worth, TX

“My favorite nightcap is whiskey—usually an Islay scotch—neat with water on the side. An Islay single malt tends to be smoky and bold. Drinking it neat keeps it from getting diluted, which means that the drink is strong and calms the nerves quickly. I like to add water one drop at a time and enjoy how each sip tastes completely different than the last as the drink evolves in the glass.” — Jon Griffiths, bartender at Datz, Tampa, FL  

Classic Cocktails

“A Stinger after work is a delicious drink to unwind with. It’s super simple with only two ingredients—Cognac and crème de menthe (I use Fanny Fougerat Cognac)—shaken together and served in a chilled Martini glass. It gives you a warm fuzzy feeling and because of the crème de menthe, you don’t even need to brush your teeth before bed.” — Barrie Wilson, co-founder of Scotch + Limon, London, England

“Without a doubt, my favorite cocktail (for a nightcap or any time really) is a Dark ‘N’ Stormy with fresh lime juice, ginger beer and a dark rum float (preferably Goslings or Meyers Dark). It’s crisp, refreshing and well-balanced. Even if it isn’t on the menu, any bar that serves a Moscow Mule most likely has the necessary ingredients for this drink (it is basically a Moscow Mule with dark rum instead of vodka). When the rum is floated over the top of the drink, it looks like dark storm clouds mixing into the cocktail.” — Ben Sinon, general manager and beverage director at Wrigley Mansion, Phoenix, AZ

“My nightcap of choice is a Mezcal Negroni. It’s super easy to make—something you can just pour on the rocks—and it’s refreshing but still strong.” — Robert Longhurst, bar manager at Josephine, Nashville, TN

“The Beefeater Martini at the Red Room at Milk & Honey is my nightcap of choice. Calm and relaxing and always consistent, the rest of the world doesn't exist in there.” — Bobby Hiddleston, co-owner of Swift, London, England

“This one is easy. For me, the perfect after-work nightcap is a Gin Gimlet with Ransom Gin at Sparrow, located a block from Maple & Ash. I head over there after work because they know how to make it properly, with the right ratio of citrus and sweetener. It makes the best nightcap because it's my favorite cocktail done right and the ambiance of the bar go hand in hand. It’s a wonderful way to unwind after a busy dinner shift at Maple & Ash.” — Mario Flores, bartender at Maple & Ash, Chicago, IL

“I usually have a nightcap as a celebration after a long workday versus a day off. I love a Sazerac but drink a slightly different take on the classic that’s made with gold agricole rum and bourbon. The beauty of this drink is that you can have it pretty much anywhere in the world (last time I had it in Los Angeles). But if I've just finished a long day shift, I love to sip it at the bar in Super Lyan.” — Maja Jaworska, bartender Super Lyan and Cub, London, England

“After making drinks for other people all night long, I probably don’t want to make another one for myself. But, sometimes a drink gets ordered or I think of something I haven’t made in a long time and that will sound good to me, so then I’ll make myself one. I recently had a Lion’s Tail which is bourbon, lime juice, pimento dram, a little simple syrup and a dash of bitters served up. It was delicious.” — Dave Castillo, bar manager at Truss & Twine, Palm Springs, CA

“My favorite nightcap is a version of an Oaxacan Negroni with Rayu mezcal, Gran Classico, Alessio Chinato and smoked salt. We make it at accomplice. It’s not too boozy for a lightweight like me, and it blends all my favorite elements in a cocktail: aromatic, savory, bitter and smoky. It gives just the right amount of smoothing to my edges after a busy shift.” — Gaby Mlynarczyk, bar director at accomplice & bar consultant at fundamental DTLA, Los Angeles, CA

“At the end of a busy night, I have a short ritual that I finish off the shift with: After the bar has been closed and cleaned, I make two small Nick and Nora-style Martinis. One Martini I place in the freezer, the other I drink while I finish up closing paperwork for the night. After I have finished both the paperwork and the first Martini, I get the bar journal, the second Martini and sit down on one of the barstools. I spend the next 20 minutes or so recording all the ideas, issues, notable customers and anything else interesting that happened that night. I don’t feel like the shift is truly over until I complete that ritual.” — Jason Stevens, director of Bars & Beverage at Corsha Hospitality Group: Boiler Nine Bar + Grill, Mattie’s at Green Pastures, Second Bar + Kitchen, Austin, TX

Dessert-tails

“I like to indulge after a long, busy shift. My favorite nightcap to make myself is an amari or bitters milkshake. Some of my favorites are Angostura bitters, Amaro Montenegro, Vecchia Del Capo and Black Note milkshakes. I usually mix these up at home. It makes the perfect nightcap because it is a dessert and a drink in one. Treat yourself!” — Brynn Smith, bar director at Sotto & Rossoblu, Los Angeles, CA

"Once my shifts are done, my drink of choice is a twist on an old favorite since I was 21: the Espresso Martini. Usually by the end of a shift, I am pretty exhausted and this cocktail is always the relaxing pick-me-up I am looking for. Lately I have been swapping out the vodka for mezcal, which adds a smoky and more robust flavor that pairs perfectly with the chocolatey and rich espresso. I also like to add an amaro, such as Montenegro, for more depth and spice notes. I have to be careful because this cocktail is delicious in any variation, so it is really easy to have too many!" — Morgan Zuch, corporate beverage director at Datz Restaurant Group, Tampa, FL

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